Jim Machi : Industry Insight
Jim Machi

Femtocells

"Wireless Inside" Inside Japan

July 7, 2010

Japan has always been at the forefront of mobility and the use of mobile phones. It's always an interesting place to go to see how people are using mobile phones. In the land of Pok√©mon, it's not surprising this was one of the first places I remember seeing the equivalent of emoticons (emoji) built into the phones as a way to more easily get your point across when texting.    Wireless Japan is next week in Tokyo and with femtocells being at the forefront of news in Japan right now, I thought I'd write about that a bit. A femtocell is essentially a way to bring the wireless connection indoors, or in other words a way to create FMC.   A femtocell device would connect to a broadband connection on one end (your home or office DSL or cable broadband router for instance, or potentially in the future a WiMax one), which then through an IMS or IMS-like architecture gets back to the wireless or PSTN networks, and on the other end has a 3G (or other) connection to talk to your phone that's inside the building.    In places like Tokyo, where there are dense building structures, this is important as the 3G networks are not always able to penetrate the buildings. And in places like Tokyo, where people use their mobile phones a lot for texting, gaming, chatting, Facebooking, viewing videos, etc, keeping the connection going when going indoors is important.    One obvious issue with femtocells involves already having a WiFi connection in your house.   With many smartphones having both 3G and WiFi (4G) connectivity (see my June 30th blog about AT&T offloading users to WiFi services), why would you need to do this? Well, all phones are not smartphones for one thing. And all use cases are not the same, especially as I've said regarding Tokyo where the mobile phone use case is different from the US. But, it is an issue worth mentioning. And another issue is the business case - the ROI of paying for this benefit.   Two weeks ago, Ubiquisys, which makes femtocells, announced that Softbank would offer free femtocells. Softbank, which by the way is the exclusive iPhone carrier in Japan, has long been a femtocell supporter. I guess they are coming to the realization that people, while they "like" a service like that, do not like it enough to pay for that service. And this is also a way for mobile operators to keep their subscribers on their networks longer as opposed to switching to a WiFi network. Given KDDI rolled out femtocell services on July 1st, we'll see if this is successful in Japan. People are watching this closely
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